Shop­ping will be di≠er­ent and eas­ier this year

Vir­tual re­al­ity, mo­bile check­out help­ing en­hance cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence

The Buffalo News - - BUSINESS - By Holly Shively COX NEWS­PA­PERS

New tech­nolo­gies will al­low shop­pers to make their choices quicker and with more con­fi­dence as re­tail­ers bat­tle to make the con­sumers’ lives eas­ier as the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son heats up.

Now in No­vem­ber and with hol­i­day shop­ping pick­ing up, re­tail­ers are ex­pect­ing on­line shop­ping to in­crease nearly 15 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Adobe An­a­lyt­ics.

The jump in e-com­merce is forc­ing re­tail­ers to put new tech­nol­ogy at the fore­front of ef­forts to stay com­pet­i­tive as con­sumers de­ter­mine where and how they’ll buy gifts this year.

“Tech­nol­ogy is cur­rently re­mak­ing ev­ery facet of the cus­tomer jour­ney – from how we search for prod­ucts and com­par­i­son shop to how we pay for items,” said Beck Besecker, founder and CEO of Marx­ent, a de­signer and cre­ator of aug­mented re­al­ity and vir­tual re­al­ity.

Marx­ent has de­vel­oped vir­tual re­al­ity to help Macy’s cus­tomers vi­su­al­ize fur­ni­ture within their homes. Besecker said a grow­ing num­ber of apps are also al­low­ing shop­pers to vi­su­al­ize prod­ucts with­out ever hav­ing to step out the door.

Re­tail­ers who haven’t in­vested in aug­mented re­al­ity are go­ing to miss out on in­creased sales this win­ter and “prob­a­bly spend 2019 scram­bling to catch up,” he said.

Vir­tual re­al­ity is also be­ing used to teach store work­ers how to han­dle crowds dur­ing the hol­i­day. The tech­nol­ogy, used at 198 Wal­mart train­ing acad­e­mies, has helped Wal­mart de­velop new strate­gies to make hol­i­day shop­ping more ef­fi­cient.

And re­tail­ers are bol­ster­ing their on­line se­lec­tions, with most of the hot Black Fri­day deals also hap­pen­ing dur­ing spe­cific times on­line, said Tif­fany Chalmers, ex­ec­u­tive team leader at Tar­get in Beaver­creek, Ohio.

“Shop­ping ba­si­cally can be done at their fin­ger­tips in­stead of hav­ing to go out of their way to the store, es­pe­cially as we ap­proach the hol­i­day sea­son,” she said.

An­tic­i­pat­ing the in­crease in cus­tomers choos­ing to shop from home, sev­eral re­tail­ers have up­dated ship­ping stan­dards for the sea­son, in­clud­ing Tar­get’s free two-day ship­ping on any or­ders re­gard­less of price. Tar­get is among many re­tail­ers pick­ing up ad­vance ship­ping ser­vices, a deal made fa­mous when Ama­zon be­gan of­fer­ing it for Prime mem­bers.

“This is re­ally an evo­lu­tion,” re­tail an­a­lyst Brit­tain Ladd said. “Ev­ery year there’s a new tech­nol­ogy; ev­ery year there’s an im­prove­ment in sup­ply chain.”

And that im­prove­ment for de­liv­ery is ex­pected to con­tinue, Ladd said, as re­tail­ers ex­per­i­ment with us­ing third­party com­pa­nies like De­liv, Shipt and In­stacart in ad­di­tion to the United Par­cel Ser­vice and FedEx to ship Christ­mas gifts. And the re­tail­ers are also look­ing into ma­chine learn­ing and aug­mented re­al­ity to bet­ter de­ter­mine in­ven­tory lev­els months in ad­vance of the shop­ping sea­son.

But those who do de­cide to brave the crowds at stores this hol­i­day sea­son can also ex­pect a quicker trip, with new mo­bile check­out tech­nol­ogy de­but­ing

Shop­ping

in both Wal­mart and Tar­get.

The mo­bile pay­ment op­tions are ex­pected to keep cus­tomers from wait­ing in long check­out lines, with Wal­mart’s Check Out With Me and Tar­get’s Skip-the-Line giv­ing shop­pers a chance to check out with store em­ploy­ees strate­gi­cally placed in the busiest parts of stores through­out the hol­i­day sea­son.

Es­pe­cially dur­ing the hol­i­days, cus­tomers can avoid the chaos of a busy store by tak­ing ad­van­tage of new pickup tech­nolo­gies de­but­ing in Wal­marts, such as the 16-foot­tall pickup tower and curb­side pickup, west­ern Ohio e-com­merce man­ager Tim Ma­han said.

“One of the things that we’ve seen over the course of the past few years is that cus­tomers are re­ally want­ing to get in and get out pretty quickly,” Ma­han said.

But re­tail­ers still have a long way to go to catch up with Ama­zon, whose cashier­less check­out at Ama­zon Go stores is still more ad­vanced than the mo­bile check­out other re­tail­ers are de­but­ing for the hol­i­days, Ladd said.

And in many cases, Ama­zon’s voice tech­nol­ogy gives con­sumers the abil­ity to pur­chase their items by sim­ply ask­ing an Alexa-en­abled de­vice, and Ama­zon will take care of the rest.

“The re­tail in­dus­try is chang­ing a lot, and in or­der to keep up we do have to make ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy, es­pe­cially when it comes to the on­line shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence for our guests,” Chalmers said.

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